Alumni barred from school for being “politically active”?


By Terry Xu

Like the year before, graduate of First Toa Payoh Secondary, Ariffin Sha was preparing to return to his former school to help out with its involvement in the National Day celebrations. He was former parade commander and also vice president of the student council.

This year was different, as his teacher told him that he need not come to help because the parade will be on a smaller scale.

This sounds fairly normal, until Ariffin started to hear other opinions about why his alma mater no longer needed his help.

image from lenneyHe was told by his former teacher that he can no longer enter the school premises without the approval of the principal.

And soon after, he got to know from about eight other friends who were still studying at the school that they have been asked about their relationship with him and whether he has ever spoken to them on political issues.

They were asked questions such as, “Are you close to Ariffin?”, or “Did Ariffin talk about politics to you guys?”

Ariffin had recently been active in the social political arena, voicing out on social issues online and speaking at events in Hong Lim Park. His views dealt mostly with government policies.

His friends said they did not know why the school had to ask such questions, and  were very puzzled about why Ariffin should be treated in such a manner.

Two friends from the group of students had also volunteered with him for his community project and were also questioned about their voluntary work with Ariffin. They said that they understood where the school was coming from in terms of safety and responsibility of the students, even though they volunteered in their personal capacity. But they could not understand why they were asked questions about Ariffin himself.

According to Ariffin, no other fellow Alumni members were told that their services at the school were no longer required.

The school principal, Mr Lim Kok Hwa, arranged for a meeting with Ariffin on a Saturday to address his concerns over the issue. Ariffin had informed his principal that the contents of the meeting would not be private and confidential.

During the meeting, the principal assured him that he was not being barred from the school compound. He explained that the school was merely exercising security measures due to the recent spate of sex-for-grades cases. He also said that the teacher who told Ariffin he would require the principal’s approval before he can enter the school misunderstood what he said.

However, Mr Lim did not address the issue of why Ariffin’s friends were questioned about their relationship with him and whether he spoke to them on political matters.

TOC sent queries to First Toa Payoh Secondary School and the Ministry of Education last week, to confirm if Ariffin has indeed been denied entry to the school compound as alumni, or if other alumni members have also been treated similarl. We have yet to receive a response from the school or MOE, and will include their response in this report when they reply.

Ariffin said that he hopes what happened to him will not continue, because quite a number of secondary school students have expressed to him their interests in political involvement.

Questions remain about whether Ariffin was indeed ostracised by his school for his contrarian views on national policies, as his fellow students are now left wondering if they would be treated the same way should they do likewise. Would it have a chilling effect on active citizenry among those he know?

Images of Ariffin volunteering with the Extend the Feast community project organised by the Happy People Helping People Foundation. Ariffin was the organiser for the Toa Payoh area for the distribution of food.

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